“Schuman’s Opera Premiere of ‘Taste’ A Question of Pace at Glimmerglass”

This review was written by Bill Rice and printed in the June 26, 1989 edition of The Schenectady Gazette.

COOPERSTOWN – Composter William Schuman wrote his newest opera, “A Question of Taste” at the request of the Glimmerglass Opera as a companion piece for his “The Mighty Casey.”

“Casey” was written in the 1950s but the one-act work didn’t receive much attention until 1986, when it was one of the hits of the Glimmerglass season.

On Saturday night, “Taste” had its world premiere in the Alice Busch Opera Theater, along with “The Mighty Casey.”

As the new work unfolded, it became a question of pace. Schuman’s newest effort, with a libretto by J. D. McClatchy, was slow moving and generally disappointing on opening night.

“A Question of Taste” is based on a short story by Roald Dahl. It deals with a crafty wine connoisseur who makes a bet with his dinner host that he can identify an obscure wine.

This is a high-stakes bet, with big money and the hand of the host’s daughter riding on the expert’s choice.

The one-act opera is set entirely in the living room of the host, Mr. Schofield, and there are no breaks in time, but it is segmented nonetheless.

The opera opens with a long scene in which Louise Schofield, portrayed by Risa Renae Harman, gets a table-setting lesson from a housekeeper (Gwendolyn Bowers-Lentz).

Next, Louise sings a long aria lamenting her situation in life (she feels trapped by her father’s old-fashioned ways) and then, after her boyfriend, Tom, arrives, they sing an endless duet.

One began hoping for an early dinner serving in hopes the pace would pick up when the wine tasting began, but that was not to be.

Throughout much of the dinner scene, Mr. Schofield (Brian Steele) and wine expert Phillisto Pratt (Dan Sullivan) try to out-bellow each other and Pratt drags out the wine sampling like someone stalling for his life.

This seems to be an opera with room for a lot of humor, but there is none. A few attempts, maybe, but nothing really funny happens. The Schofield maid, for some reason, is depicted as being clumsy and inept. She breaks dishes in the kitchen and sort of stumbles from one setting to the next while serving dinner.

The characterisation was silly rather than funny and it seemed unlikely the Schofield’s would keep such a bungler on staff.

On first hearing, “A Question of Taste” seemed over-orchestrated, with the music intruding more than supporting. The moods suggested by the music do not always enhance the action.

When the lovers, Tom and Louise meet alone early int he opera, for example, the music seemed foreboding rather than tender.

The cast did a more than adequate job vocally, and Brian Steele came back in “The Mighty Casey” to give a splendid performance as the Watchman, a narrator figure in the baseball classic.

“Casey” is a highly contrasting work, as American as a piece of apple pie topped within cream. The piece captures the flavor of turn-of-the-century, small-town U.S.A. in a humorous, folksy way, and the large Glimmerglass cast pulled it off with unchecked enthusiasm.

Particularly strong performances were given by Carla Connors as Casey’s girl, James Rensink as the Manager, Timothy Dekay as Casey, Dan Sullivan as the umpire and Dwayne Croaft as a fan.

The two operas can be seen again tonight, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.